Before my brother moved to Israel, Memorial Day for me was just another long weekend that I would spend with friends and family and take advantage of Memorial Day sales.
My brother drafted into the army while I was still in high school. I remember every time the news reported there was a terrorist attack or bombings Gaza, near my brother’s base, and my heart would drop. I would hold my breath until I knew he was safe. There were times where we went weeks without talking to my brother and our mother would barely sleep at night, waiting on his call.
Slowly, in my senior year of high school, Memorial Day’s meaning changed. It means that there are still many families waiting to get that call from their loved ones. Those who are receiving those calls are lucky when they do.
When I got to Israel and started applying to Sherut Leumi — national service — I knew I did not want to work somewhere typical: I wanted it to be unique. A few months later, I was placed into an organisation that helps victims of terror. I had no idea what I was getting myself into; I was scared and excited. I knew this day, Yom Hazikaron would be so much more meaningful after hearing their stories. It was not just a more meaningful day, but instead much more personal.
Every day I met a new victim of terror, and heard their stories about how they were in attacks or how they lost someone in an attack.The empathetic feelings were overwhelming me. Most days, I did not know who walked through the doors. I slowly realised that each and every person was a hero in their own way. They all had stories and heartbreak written all over their faces, even if they were smiling. They were genuinely happy but clearly something was missing: and that thing was the loved one they had lost. Yesterday, we felt the absence that these families feel every day. Today we cry and mourn; they cry and mourn every day.
I did not want this day to come. I wanted to push it to the back of my mind, because I knew if I let myself feel it would be hard to stop. However, we should not stop.
I could not go from being sad to happy, with the snap of a finger. I didn’t want to remember all the stories I heard, to feel that pain. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold back the tears.
For the last two years, on Yom Hazikaron, I reached out to the people I met through this organisation. I lent a shoulder to cry on along with an ear to listen. The one thing they tell me to do is shed light to the world, in honor of the person they lost and to never let that light burn out.
So today, instead of holding back, I gave in. I thought about all the brave people that we look up to. The people who fought for us, to live in the country we live in. The people who were in their homes sleeping when terror struck their lives. We remember because we are Klal Yisroel: a family.
We are all justified to how we feel. If I learnt anything from these brave people is that it is okay to cry and to laugh at the old memories. It is okay to move forward slowly. Together, as one nation, we will move forward while remembering the people that helped us get to where we are today. May we never have to lose another person again.